March 2011 saw the fifth episode of Season 15 of Thomas & Friends...
...but before the review, the usual disclaimer:
The views below are entirely those of the author and not representative of the Sodor Island Forums as a whole.
On that note, it's time to get this review underway...
Where have all the goods trains gone, where are all the guard's....vans!!! I need a Hero...!
Edward The Hero
Writer: Sharon Miller
Edward is given a special job to do, so he decides that he needs to become a hero. He soon discovers that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Edward and Gordon. Saved from Scrap. Old Iron. Edward's Exploit.
For as long as I can remember, Edward has been my favourite character. Gordon of course, runs him a close second, but Edward was always the hero of the piece. Not Thomas - Edward. From saving traction engines in peril, to steam engines in danger, to helping out on the hill, and getting the passengers home, Edward has always been the hero of Thomas & Friends, if not in number nor in profile, but most certainly in spirit.
This is a character who you wept for, when his wheels slipped, and something cracked! The character you urged on, as he tried to start the heavy train. Like the motionless passengers of the model series, you waited anxiously as his driver and guard, went along the train, adjusting the couplings. This is the character you cheered for, when he brought the train home - battered, weary, but unbeaten...
In short, Edward has always had that aspect of being a hero. It's what made him a great character, with many facets to his personality. Old, but undeniably wise. Kind, but hard working. Determined to always finish the job, no matter what.
So it was with some sadness that I watched today's episode, and wondered what had become of this character I love so much. I can understand the "hero" motif, and the moral of the story being, "be yourself". But I question if Edward was the right choice of character for this episode.
The problem to some extent, is that the writers in the CGI series seem to have fixated on the "old" part of Edward's personality, transferring that instead into being "weak". This in some respects, not only represents a negative stereotype (old equals weak), but it also means the other parts of Edward's personality - that being, confidence and knowledge from his many years - is lost.
The repeated dialogue, and rhyming of Sharon Miller's work actually undoes a lot of the good ideas she has in writing for this series. Yes, on occasion Ms Miller does have a good concept for an episode. Today's one was full of potential.
But you don't have a "rescue engine" - you have a "backup" engine, or "standby" engine. I think bringing back Rocky, and the breakdown crane, to tell a tale somewhat in the vein of Thomas & The Breakdown Train would have been a better bet than three separate incidents.
The inherent danger of a proper accident, and reacting well under pressure would have shown Edward up as the hero he has always been.
But the three incidents in question - retrieving the bag, the dog, and Charlie's sense of humour (I am ignoring the squeaky wheel as a real steam engine at work has a lot more squeals and squeaks than just the driving wheels!), all felt very forced once again.
Reusing the same phrases inbetween each incident, and making Edward ground to a halt and exclaim each time got tired very quickly. The dog incident, by the way, is too close in focus to Percy's New Friends. We've had the animal story already, - to repeat the same concept so quickly felt and looked lazy on screen.
What did not look tired or lazy was the direction of the shots today. I was blown away by the opening shot, and longed to see more of it. Watching the engine pulling the train, whilst being ON the train is extremely clever, and a shot I've longed to recreate myself in my own work (albeit, in physical models than CGI).
Greg Tiernan gets a huge amount of kudos for that one shot, it was extremely effective, and I felt, in fact, all of the shots were today. Not one single shot looked out of place. Edward himself looks perfectly rendered, and his facial expressions were spot on for every scene.
The people - everywhere Edward went - looked at home and very natural in their scenes.
However, I must once again plead for a brake van on all the goods trains. That does look unnatural, and its an absolute necessity for the goods trains to look realistic.
Overall the disappointment from this episode is clear to me. Edward was not in character for this episode, nor was this an episode particularly suited to him. Perhaps suited to Percy - whom HiT have turned from cheeky, know-it-all into a fairly nondescript, wimpy character - but Edward? No, sorry, not in my viewing of Sodor's number 2.
The episode was not anywhere near as bad as the previous episodes in the series. It's still not all there either. The concept had merit, but it was written badly once more. The alliteration, rhyming and repeated dialogue felt tired and rehashed throughout. The copy and paste nature of these episodes make almost every episode feel exactly the same, and in that respect the beginning, middle and end feel of a proper rounded story is simply absent.
The saddest thing about today's episode for me, was the feeling that my favourite character was completely absent throughout, yet was on screen for the whole episode. The character in blue, numbered two and purportedly Edward, is not my Edward, nor the Edward of previous years and for many generations of children throughout the globe.
So on that sad note - I'd just like to say - I need my hero back.
Individual Episode Score: 2/10 - Gordon and Ferdinand 4/10 - Toby and Bash 3/10 - Emily and Bash 5/10 - Edward The Hero
Total Season Score So Far: 15/50
Average Season Score So Far: 3/10
Quick Character Stats
Edward, Harold, Charlie, Thomas, Dowager Hatt, Farmer McColl, Gordon, Percy, Henry, The Fat Controller
Emily, Toby, Rocky, James, Salty, Spencer, Iron 'Arry & Bert, Captain